American Sheep Industry Releases Revised Sheep Care Guide


In September 2017, the American Sheep Industry Association (ASI) announced the release of the updated Sheep Care Guide (http://sheepusa.org/Newsmedia_WeeklyNewsletter_2017_September_September12017_UpdatedSheepCareGuideNowAvailable).  Though the guide is not intended to be an exhaustive management reference, it is a useful tool that provides guidance on common topics for sheep producers.  The Guide describes the position of the sheep industry on sensitive issues, such as proper handling and routine management practices that have come under recent scrutiny.  This edition marks the second complete update and revision since the Guide was first released in 1996. It also includes an expanded reference section that lists valuable resources for producers that have been revised or published in the past ten years.

Updates to the Guide include peer-reviewed research that has been published since the previous version was released in 2006, as well as updated regulations that affect sheep production.  Topics that were updated based on new research include pain management for castration and tail docking, euthanasia methods, transportation, shearing, and weaning.  Other revised topics include the Veterinary Feed Directive, and judicious antibiotic use recommendations.

In light of the constant and growing scrutiny of animal production practices, it’s worth noting that the Guide took a new and stronger position on sensitive issues, including pain management and removing a previous recommendation for withholding water 12 hours prior to shearing.  During the revision of the Guide, a consensus was reached among the sheep industry leadership that recommendations for water access should be aligned with slaughter plant guidelines.  Currently, the North American Meat Institute Recommended Guidelines for Animal Care and Handling in Slaughter Plants does not permit any animal to be without water for more than 30 minutes.  Failure to provide water is considered an egregious act of abuse or neglect, which results in an automatic failure of an animal welfare audit.

Though on-farm production has not yet been subject to the same degree of regulatory pressure as slaughter plants, it seems logical to expect that on-farm animal production will be the next likely target for increased regulation.  In fact, the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices Final Rule is an example of this looming reality.  To be eligible for inclusion in a program with an organic label, specific space allowances must be provided for poultry, and all animals must have outdoor access year round.

Change is never easy, particularly in the livestock industry, where production practices vary so greatly across the country.  However, if the livestock industry has learned one thing, it is that the only constant is change, and I constantly encounter a strong commitment to continuous improvement.  Easy as it would be for the sheep industry to take a relaxed approach when considering the potential for on-farm regulation, I admire the forward progress that is evident in the most recent Sheep Care Guide.  The more I think about it, the more I believe that the sheep industry has two incredibly valuable tools at their disposal that could be used to their benefit in preparing for the potential of increased regulation of on-farm production practices: the Sheep Care Guide and the Sheep Safety and Quality Assurance program.  With relatively little additional work, U.S. sheep producers could use these two programs as the core of an industry-wide standard which could be easily adapted to an audit.  In anticipation of increased regulatory pressure, the industry would have a program in place that could be used to inform and guide the development of regulations.  However, without such a concerted effort, the industry could find themselves in a far less desirable position, in which the National Organic Program or other governmental agencies might be drafting and proposing rules for production instead of adopting existing, functioning guidelines.  I see the release of the updated Sheep Care Guide as a timely event that could be a platform for taking the sheep industry into the future.

The Sheep Care Guide can be found online: http://sheepusa.org/Home

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